Family Of Sandra Bland Reaches $1.9 Million Settlement
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Once I put this baby in the ground, I am ready; this means war. Geneva Reed-Veal said those words at the memorial service for her daughter Sandra Bland last year. She says she meant it as a spiritual war to fight for her daughter.
Today the family's attorney announced it has settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $1.9 million with the Texas jail where Sandra Bland died. The agreement also contains changes for the way the Waller County jail operates. The county says the settlement is not yet final.
Bland's death in July of 2015 was ruled a suicide. She was found unresponsive three days after a traffic stop for failing to signal a lane change. That stop quickly escalated into a contentious situation between Bland, who's black, and the white state trooper who stopped her. Her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, joins us now. Welcome to the show.
GENEVA REED-VEAL: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
MCEVERS: This settlement of course will not bring your daughter back, but has it brought you some relief?
REED-VEAL: Relief, no - justice, yes. I'd have to call it God's justice because there's no amount of money that you would ever be able to receive that would be OK after you've lost your child. Folks are focusing on the dollar amount, and that's not what's really big here.
What's big here is the non-monetary things that are going to occur because of this agreement. And that's where I am staking all of my focus because again, I don't care if it was 50 million, you understand? That wouldn't - that doesn't cause relief - no, no, no, no, no.
Once you get the additional items that were very important - and my additional items were always about the rest of the community at large. It's always been about that other mother who's lost their child as well across this country.
MCEVERS: When you talk about the non-monetary provisions in the settlement, I know that includes that a nurse or an emergency medical technician should be working at this jail on all shifts. Explain what else is in this agreement.
REED-VEAL: Right, 24/7 - all shifts. There will also be an electronic system that will be used to verify that a inmate has been checked on. There will no longer be handwritten logs. The logs now will be electronic, which then means there can be no falsification of entry. There can be no false information due to manual human error.
The other piece is the Waller County judge has agreed to set in motion or go forth with looking at legislation to change what's going on in the jails, to assist with intake, booking, everything that involves the training of the officers and how they take care of folks there, OK. This is monumental because now you have the agreement that states - yes, something here needs to change. That's big.
MCEVERS: You talk about helping other mothers who may lose their children, but these specific changes will only be made in this one jail. You know, how do you...
MCEVERS: ...Think that this can help in other jails?
REED-VEAL: I tell you what. Watch a newborn baby when they take a step. Do they take 10 steps at a time? No, they take one step at a time. And so this is the one step at a time that we're taking. I'm not concerned with everything outside of Waller right now. I'm concerned with what happened in Waller first.
REED-VEAL: And then the work outside of Waller happens. So I count it a great victory. I will be relentless in the pursuit of assisting other mothers to carry on and do what they need to do to get the same type of justice for their child.
MCEVERS: You know, as we said, this happened after, you know, she was pulled over in a traffic stop. And then she was found dead in her cell, and it was ruled a suicide. Do you still believe there was foul play at the jail, or do you think it's possible that she did take her own life?
REED-VEAL: I don't believe she took her own life, absolutely not. I don't - no. No, Ma'am, I don't agree. I don't say that she committed suicide. I will never say that.
She died in custody where someone else was responsible for her. Her rights were taken when she was handcuffed. Her rights were taken when this officer's knee was in her back. Her rights were taken when she was threatened to get out of her car. Let's really talk about the issue here.
MCEVERS: What do you plan to do now?
REED-VEAL: Oh, I'm not going to stop talking. I continue to go out, and I continue to connect with other mothers who may still be in the valley, in the dark valley that I was in months ago. I lived this thing. I live it every single day.
So when you can go to another mother who's going through this and you can tell her, I know you feel this way today, but I guarantee you it won't last always, that is what this is about. Real ministry comes from this.
MCEVERS: Geneva Reed-Veal, thank you very much for your time today.
REED-VEAL: Thank you.
MCEVERS: Geneva Reed-Veal is the mother of Sandra Bland. A lawyer representing Waller County in the Bland lawsuit says in a statement that his defendants vigorously deny any fault or wrongdoing and that the potential settlement does not involve any such admissions. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.